Tell me if this describes you:
You have a few topics for an online business floating around in your head, and would love to pick one and start building your online empire around it. But this thought keeps coming into your head:
“I’m not an expert in topic X. Don’t I need to be an expert to enter this market?”
The short answer to this question is “Absolutely not!”
In this post I’ll describe:
1. Why you don’t need to be an expert to start a niche website/business
2. How you can get around the “authority” issue by becoming a “niche journalist”
3. My own experience in launching products in markets in which I’m not an expert, and how I have leveraged the expertise of others
Why “Expertise” Shouldn’t Hold You Back from Starting Your Niche Empire
Did you know that according to a (disputed) study, 33% of high school graduates in the United States never read another book for the rest of their lives?
Here are some other startling stats from that study:
- 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57% of new books are not read to completion.
Surprising? Hardly. I’m sure we all know people who don’t have the time (or interest) to read, or maybe we fall into that category ourselves.
But before you shed a tear for book publishers, think about what that means: if you’re passionate about a topic, it probably means that you’ve read more about that topic than most people.
More importantly, as bloggers like Dave Navarro, Rob Cornish, and Tim Conley suggest, you don’t need to be an “absolute” expert in a niche to start your own website – because expertise exists on a continuum.
In other words, you might not be the most knowledgeable person in the world about yoga for seniors, but you’re more knowledgeable than some people. And those people who are interested in yoga for seniors, but are less knowledgeable than you? That’s your target audience!
The bottom line is that if you wait until you’re a world-class expert in a niche before starting your online business, you will be waiting a LONG time. Better to take action and start serving those who know less than you.
Forget Authority – Start by Being a “Niche Journalist”
So how do you start serving an audience if you’re not an established authority in a niche? Become a niche journalist!
Here’s my definition of a “niche journalist”:
A person who collects and disseminates information about a topic that he/she feels passionate about, by gathering the best content on the Web and in books, and by interviewing experts.
Like a conventional journalist, a niche journalist acts as a reporter on their topic, researching facts, interviewing credible sources of information, and writing about it in their column (which, for a niche journalist, is a blog).
Unlike traditional journalists, however, niche journalists have multiple streams of income through their ever-growing portfolio of websites.
Their income comes from advertising links placed on their sites (e.g. Google AdSense), and information products that they sell (both affiliate products, and products that they have created after listening carefully to the needs of their niche audience).
How the “80/20 Rule” Relates to Niche Journalism
I’ll describe how I’ve used niche journalism to build my online business in a moment, but first I want to ask: have you ever heard of the “80/20 rule”?
It’s a pretty simple concept: in the early 1900s an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto made an intriguing observation: 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. (Don’t ask me how he discovered that. I guess Italian economists had a lot of time on their hands in the early 1900s.)
The “80/20” rule (also called the Pareto Principle) has since become a rule of thumb, and applied to many areas of life: 80% of results are usually achieved through 20% of our activities; 80% of a firm’s sales come from 20% of its customers; etc.
So what does that have to do with niche journalism? Simply put, it means that by being a niche journalist, you can leverage the knowledge of others to rapidly expand your online business. By focusing 20% of your efforts on curating the knowledge of experts, practitioners, “survivors”, and others, you can have a disproportionately larger impact on your online business.
How I’ve Used Niche Journalism to Leverage the Expertise of Others
As I’ve mentioned in other places (like my posts on the Clickbank blog), early in my online life I developed an information product for farmers, and more recently have focused on the niche audience of overweight, middle-aged males. I chose the latter niche audience because it has a large range of health problems, and as the Baby Boomer bulge gets older, this audience will grow even larger in size.
Now, I’ve developed a number of health-related information products for this niche, but I’m neither a medical professional, nor am I even a middle-aged male!
(I’m 42, which to me is technically “middle aged”, because it is – I hope – the mid-point of how long I’m going to live. But for some reason many definitions of middle-age start from 45 years old. Anyhoo…)
Despite not being a member of my target niche audience (nor an expert on their problems), I’ve still managed to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of info products to that target this group.
By finding out the problems that overweight, middle-aged men have, and acting as a journalist to track down solutions to those problems.
In the process of tracking down solutions, I’ve done these things (among others):
- Interviewed experts
- Interviewed “survivors”
- Snooped around blogs and online forums
(I should note that I’ve also outsourced these tasks – and at a very reasonable price, too!)
This approach has allowed me to grow a thriving online business that has multiple income streams. And I’ve achieved it through a simple formula:
Niche research + niche journalism = nice profits!
But I’m not the only one who follows this formula. Here are a few examples of other online businesses that are thriving by using it:
IncomeDiary.com, a blog on how to make money online. This is a great example of niche journalism, as the blog’s owner (Michael Dunlop) freely admits that he knew nothing about the topic when started.
But he managed to build a large following by interviewing experts in the field of online business. In the process, his knowledge of, and authority in, that field has grown substantially.
On other popular blogs like Entrepreneur’s Journey and Smart Passive Income there are podcasts in which the blogger interviews experts on a range of topics related to internet marketing. This has two benefits:
- The interviewer gains a lot of knowledge from the person they’re interviewing
- The interviewer also becomes thought of as an expert-by-association, simply by doing the interview!
How YOU Can Become a Niche Journalist
Before you can become a niche journalist, you first have to find a niche that is both profitable AND fun, of course.
But once you’ve settled on a niche, there are MANY ways you can “borrow” the expertise necessary to create information products, content for your website, etc. Here are some ideas to get you started (I’ve personally used all of these):
- Interview “experts” (university professors, consultants, and/or people with decades of experience)
- Interview “survivors” (i.e. people who have overcome some ordeal and have lessons to share)
- Partner with experts
- Have content written for you by experts
- License content/products from experts
- Collect and summarize content yourself (as one example, this approach has led Peep Laja from ConversionXL to quickly be seen as an expert in his field and build a million dollar consulting business)
In this post I’ve tried to dispel the myth that you have to be an “expert” or “authority” in order to start (and grow) an online business.
From my own experience, and the experience of many other Internet marketers, it’s not necessary to be an expert to serve an audience. People will gladly buy from you, as long as you clearly understand their needs, and put on your niche journalist hat to track down the solutions that will meet those needs.
Do you have a good story involving niche journalism? If so, please leave a comment below.
Postscript: many thanks to Dave for inspiring this post, and the concept of the “niche journalist”. In a recent email, he asked how to approach a niche that he is interested in, but doesn’t feel qualified to blog about.
This post was updated on September 16th, 2014.